Presented on Wednesday, May 7, 2008 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. One of the remarkable and often neglected facts about Mark Twain is that he had the capacity to change his mind, even well into his old age, when most of us nestle in the Barcalounger of settled opinion. Many are of course familiar with his change in attitude toward race (though we may have been misled about how that change occurred), but he also changed his mind on women's suffrage, trade unions, capital punishment, patriotism, and the insanity plea. Tom Quirk will touch upon all of these subjects but will emphasize the last, partly because the record of that change is protracted and at times an obsessive concern for Twain. Dr. Quirk will posit that these changes were the byproduct of Mark Twain's thinking on human nature and that, more than anything else, they were the result of careful and consistent reasoning, not of some sudden revelation or conversion experience, still less an impulse to conform to prevailing opinion.
Tom Quirk is the author of articles on American literature and culture and a variety of American authors. He is the author or editor of numerous books and articles including Mark Twain: A Study of the Short Fiction (1997), The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (2002), The Portable Mark Twain (2004), and Mark Twain and Human Nature (2007). In 2009 he received the John S. Tuckey Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to Mark Twain Scholarship and to the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies. He is the editor of the Mark Twain and His Circle Series of scholarly books published by the University of Missouri Press.